Safety and Wellness

Becoming a Father

When You're Expecting

Pregnant women experience a variety of emotions and life changes. But most first-time dads have their own feelings and concerns to deal with, too.

If you feel shocked, panicked, overwhelmed, scared, or like you're just not ready, you're not alone. Like any big change, this will require a major adjustment. And if the pregnancy wasn't planned — half of all pregnancies aren't — you may be feeling these emotions even more intensely.

You don't have to feel guilty or anxious about having mixed emotions; it's completely normal. And you can take steps to get more comfortable with the pregnancy, the idea of parenthood, and the preparations that can make both go as smoothly as possible.

Here are a few concerns that may be bothering you and ways to keep them in perspective:

Will I be capable of caring for a baby?

No one is born knowing this stuff, not even your pregnant partner — that's why there are childbirth classes. Depending on what's available in your area, you can take classes as early as the 12th week of pregnancy or one that focuses just on the day of labor and can be taken as late as the eighth month. And some communities offer classes designed just for first-time dads.

Most classes teach how to change a diaper, hold the baby, feed and burp the baby, get the baby to sleep, install a car seat, and childproof your home. You'll also learn where to park your car when you get to the hospital, how to get through labor, and how to care for your baby and your partner when you get home from the hospital.

Along with the lessons, you'll meet other guys going through the same experience who might be dealing with similar feelings, and that can be a huge help. The nurses and childbirth educators who lead these classes have seen dads in a variety of emotional states, so don't feel embarrassed or hesitant about asking them for help.

Will I be a good dad?

Remember that you're not going to have to tackle every part of fatherhood at once. For the first few years, a lot of the parenting involves skills taught in childbirth classes and mastered through practice.

It's much like other new roles that you might take on in your life. If you're married, you didn't automatically know how to be a good husband. You learned along the way with your wife.

You have plenty of time before you have to set curfews, teach your child to drive, and dole out relationship and career advice. These opportunities to teach your child will feel like a natural progression when they arrive. If you need guidance, check for resources in the community, including parenting classes.

It may help to talk to and spend time with other fathers and discuss issues you may be grappling with. If you feel like you have issues about your own father to work through, try to talk with someone — maybe a counselor or a family member — before the baby arrives so that they don't interfere with your relationship with your own child.

How can we afford this?

Feeding, clothing, and educating another human being is going to cost money that's now spent on other things — there's no question about it. But you can reduce your stress about the finances.

It may help to get a sense of what your costs will be right after the baby is born. Your health insurer, employer, or your partner's employer may be able to give you an idea of the costs and what is covered. Many workplaces now offer some paid paternity leave, so be sure to ask.

Consider meeting with a financial planner to get some money-management guidance. You may also want to talk to other new parents you know to get an idea of how they managed and what unexpected expenses cropped up.

You can open a college fund — or any kind of bank account — anytime to save for new expenses. You may want to start putting away a few dollars each week to fund items like childcare and diapers. That way, you'll have a headstart on meeting your child's financial needs.

Remember, you won't have to pay for certain expenses. For instance, if your partner decides to breastfeed, you'll save money on the cost of feeding your newborn. Also, many families share maternity and baby clothes because pregnant women and babies wear a particular size of clothes for such a short time.

Is this the end of my independence?

Fatherhood doesn't have to spell the end of fun. True, you may not get much sleep or time for yourself during the first few months until your baby starts sleeping through the night. But when the baby sleeps more, you and your partner will have more time for things you enjoy, together and individually.

Again, it's important to work together, communicate, and trade off on the childcare responsibilities so that you each get what you need. And try to get to know other new parents, who can share their perspectives and offer a sounding board.

In the early years, you can include your little one in many activities — maybe your child can sit with you while you watch a basketball game or read the newspaper or a book. Check out the special baby carriers that let parents take their tots along on walks and hikes.

It's easy to fear losing out on free time, but most moms and dads discover that once their child is born they treasure time spent with their baby.

How will this change our relationship and sex life?

Pregnant women experience huge physical, hormonal, and emotional changes, while also grappling with the same life changes as the dads-to-be. As the pregnancy progresses, it may affect both of you emotionally.

Moodiness can be tough to deal with, no matter what the cause, but your patience and understanding can go a long way. Try to help your partner work through any stress she might be feeling about the pregnancy and parenthood.

If you're not feeling stable or good about your relationship, try to work through the issues as soon as possible. Many couples mistakenly think that a baby will bring them together. But a baby can't fix a troubled relationship — that's the job of you and your partner. And the sooner you find a way to work together, the sooner you'll feel more comfortable with your impending parenthood.

You can enjoy sex during pregnancy as long as the pregnancy is considered low risk for complications of miscarriage or preterm labor. Discuss with your doctor, nurse-midwife, or other health care provider any risks that may be relevant to you and your partner. You don't have to feel embarrassed; they're used to such questions. As with any other aspect of pregnancy, it's important for you and your partner to speak openly about what feels right for each of you.

Of course, just because sex is safe during pregnancy doesn't mean you and your partner will want to have it. Many couples find that their sex drive — and comfort level — fluctuates during the different stages of pregnancy as both get used to all of the changes. Again, keeping the lines of communication open is key.

How am I going to get through labor?

As far as the gross-out factor goes, no rule says you must catch the baby when he or she emerges, cut the umbilical cord, or even be in the delivery room.

In childbirth classes you'll learn about massage and pain-management techniques where you'll stand behind your partner at her head and shoulders while she is pushing. As you learn about this, talk to your partner about what you're each comfortable with.

It's common to fear fainting, but the truth is that few men do. In fact, many men come out of it thinking that there's much less blood in the process than they expected!

Expectant moms, of course, do the hardest work during labor, but dads still play a crucial role. Your partner will need someone to look out for her interests and needs. Long before the due date, it's important to discuss preferences about pain management, medication, and treatment so that you can tell the health care team if your partner is unable to. You'll also be the connection between your partner and your families during the birth.

How can I help my partner?

Your doctor will probably warn you about things that can go wrong, particularly if you and your partner are older. And it's likely that you'll both have various tests and screenings for birth defects and other health problems.

Hearing all of this can be frightening. But you can do many things to help your partner — and your unborn baby — stay healthy during the pregnancy.

If you know other families with newborns and young kids, it may be helpful to spend time with them. If you don't know other new parents, your doctor or local childbirth center might be able to put you in touch with other families in your area.

Try to go with your partner to doctor appointments, where you can ask questions, gather information, hear the baby's heartbeat, and see an image of the baby on a sonogram. You may also want to tour the maternity ward at the hospital or birthing center where you plan to have the baby.

Start preparing your home for the baby by making any needed home improvements or renovations.

Remember that anxiety about pregnancy and parenthood is like anxiety you might feel about anything. Use stress-relief strategies that work for you — perhaps exercise or enjoying movies, books, music, or sports.

Talking About It

Communication can be a challenge for expectant couples. Even before the pregnancy shows, moms-to-be have strong physical reminders that a baby is on the way and life is going to change dramatically. So your partner might want to talk about the pregnancy while you're still adjusting to it.

If you're not ready to talk to her yet, you have other options. You may be more comfortable confiding in friends, relatives, and other new dads, who can offer reassurance and helpful suggestions. Many hospitals and childbirth centers also have professionals who work with new parents and can speak with you confidentially.

Remember that billions of guys before you experienced — and survived — fatherhood. There's no secret handshake and you're not supposed to instinctively know how to be a good dad. Just do your best to prepare for the birth, know that what follows will be on-the-job training, and reach out for the many resources that can help.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2011



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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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